Faculty Reflection: Sean Cornell
Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
Course(s): Introduction to Geology and Physical Geology
A Success Story in Programmatic Change
Overall, InTeGrate materials are clearly well done and cover a very wide range of topics that are applicable to many courses both at general education levels and at the upper level. I especially like the hands-on activities that are centered around case studies and that address broader connections and that help connect traditional course content to broader "real-world" societal issues.
The problem is that there are so many good modules and units, and we can't utilize all of them. It is difficult to chose what to use and how to use them directly, simply because of logistical constraints. Unfortunately and despite our academic freedom, many of our courses are still highly entrenched in the needs of our programs and must cover specific topics. Therefore finding time to cover all the topics in a given course is challenging. Clearly, my experience is that many of these multi-week modules, and indeed the multi-module courses are not readily plug and play. However, unit components of them are if they are explored in detail and that has been my approach. I have also gained much through the modification of existing activities using the units for inspiration. In this capacity it has been a great benefit to take traditional labs (i.e. mineral/rock ID labs) and kick them up a notch with InTeGrate content and/or strategies.
As such, my experience shows that enhancing traditional lecture with hands-on activities to engage students with experiential learning strategies is highly-effective with today's learners. Students rarely get time outside to explore and have little to frame their in-class learning against. Few have taken field trips to natural places, much less looked at rocks, fossils, soils, sediments, waterways, caves, mountains, etc. with a mind toward studying them carefully and thinking about how they form, why they look the way they do. Moreover, students drive by the rock quarries hidden from view by large fences and berms, the drive down the highway at rapid speeds to get to their favorite malls, and through it all are rarely afforded the opportunity to understand the role of geologic resources in their everyday lives, even when they drive on them every single day. In my classes, especially with non-majors, they often need to see the "big picture" connection before they will buy in and start to ask questions. InTeGrate materials and strategies are excellent at helping students to see the "big picture" regardless of discipline and it is for this reason, in particular, that I have pushed to figure out how best to utilize these resources, and I am dedicated to continuing to do so in the coming semesters.
Incorporating InTeGrate Materials
As noted previously, materials were incorporated primarily through existing lab activities as extensional learning components. Students were asked to read selected "for the student" unit components (websites, handouts, lecture materials, etc.) and were divided into groups to complete relevant assessment elements. These were often included in online discussion boards because we had such limited time in class (we don't have a lab with our courses so there isn't any extra time anywhere face-to-face). Service-learning and experiential learning through independent student-initiated field trips were offered as extra credit options or for-credit (i.e. Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge) as long as students completed online discussions to document their experiences and connect their field/service experiences to course content.
In Intro to Geology, these field trips took place early in the semester and were formative in design to help students develop a connection to course content. As such, I have worked hard during lecture to incorporate these local examples shared by the students into the lecture when appropriate. In this capacity, the student became the subject/site expert and most students appreciate that there experiences are incorporated and connected into the class.
With regard to Physical Geology, unit components were instrumental in pre-field trip readings to help connect students with geologic themes that they would encounter on the field trip and gave them different perspectives. I also was able to cue students to be "on the lookout" for things that related to their readings to enhance the field trip learning outcomes.
Time is a limiting factor in all decisions made, and I wished I could simply just adopt an entire module, or even course. However given the format and programmatic rigor expected, adaption was the only option. These have been described elsewhere, but although imperfect, the solution was to require students to work on InTeGrate more outside of class time and bring questions to class for further clarification.
Outcomes and Evidence
Students are definitely more engaged in class assignments that have the hands-on broader impact components. Let's face it, mineral identification is not very interesting and quite dull, unless minerals are your thing! Yet, it has to be done in order to appreciate other geologic concepts, but bringing minerals to life and putting them in the context of why we need to distinguish mineral properties, how we mine minerals, how minerals impact the environment, how people are impacted by mining, mining waste, etc. are all much more interesting to learn about than Moh's hardness scale and fracture versus cleavage.
Compared to previous (pre-InTeGrate) semesters, student work on "InTeGrate" modified labs has improved overall and students are demonstrating new competencies and typically show higher performance on mineral ID quizzes (this year only 2 students did not pass the mineral ID test compared to previous semesters where there were often 10-15). The trade-off of course is that these labs are now longer than they were, and students do complain that they spend a lot of time working on them. Other qualitative findings are observed too. Students are asking more questions in class (some for clarification of concepts/ideas, but also to interject questions about case studies and readings, etc.), their faces exhibit more interest, and from time-to-time they are caught discussing topics themselves. In some cases students are expressing very strong emotions about social impacts stemming from environmental and social justice issues surrounding the mining cases studies and this clearly shows students are engaging with materials in ways that they had not done so previously.
Quantitative measures of engagement are forthcoming since the class is still ongoing, but students have utilized service-learning and field-based extra credit opportunities more frequently than in the past. Clearly this is not just to improve lower scores on assignments, but genuinely because they seem more interested in what they are doing. Part of this has definitely been related to the number of co-curricular activities planned on campus that have made this easier. The film festival for instance. Another program in particular that helps with student engagement was the availability of the social media app for the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge that happened earlier this fall. The social media app was used by all students (required) to document their required field trip experiences (2 were required for points in the final grade). However, once they were "hooked" on the 6 week challenge and the app, a number of students continued to post beyond the requirement. They took friends back to their first field sites to show them what they discovered on their first trip, and some developed confidence to take their friends to new places they had seen other students visit. In this way all students from first years to seniors seemed to benefit from the co-curricular program that was inspired by our implementation strategy, but which were external to the curriculum objectives of the specific course.